Parshas Tetzaveh: Preparing for Holiness

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Tetzaveh, the narrative of melechas ha’Mishkan continues.  In Parshas Terumah we learned of the Aron Kodesh (holy ark), the Shulchan (the golden Table which housed the lechem ha’panim, the show bread), the Menorah, the Mizbayach ha’Nechoshes (Copper Altar), as well as the covers, beams, sockets, and curtains that gave structure to the Mishkan and its courtyard.  

Parshas Tetzaveh instructs Moshe regarding the command to designate Aharon and his sons as Kohanim, who will be garbed in garments of glory for their Divine service.  וְעָשִׂיתָ בִגְדֵיקֹדֶשׁ לְאַהֲרֹן אָחִיךָ, לְכָבוֹד וּלְתִפְאָרֶתand you shall make garments of holiness for Aharon your brother, for honor and for glory; and you shall speak to all the wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, and they shall make Aharon’s garments to sanctify him, so that He shall serve as a kohen… וְהֵם יִקְחוּ אֶתהַזָּהָב, וְאֶתהַתְּכֵלֶת וְאֶתהָאַרְגָּמָן, וְאֶתתּוֹלַעַת הַשָּׁנִי, וְאֶתהַשֵּׁשׁ – and they shall take the gold, the turquoise wool, the purple wool and the scarlet wool and the linen (Shemos 28:1-5).

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski zt’l teaches, “The Alter of Kelm (R’ Simcha Zissel Ziv zt’l, 1824-1898) asks: inasmuch as the materials for the vestments are listed in the specific instructions for fashioning each garment, for example: וְעָשׂוּ, אֶתהָאֵפֹדזָהָב תְּכֵלֶת וְאַרְגָּמָן תּוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי, וְשֵׁשׁ מָשְׁזָרand they shall make the ephod of gold, turquoise, purple and scarlet wool and linen (28:6), what is the purpose of prefacing the instructions with the general statement outlined in v.5: and they shall take the gold, the turquoise, the purple and the scarlet wool and the linen?  

“The Alter answers that before the craftsmen began fashioning the vestments, they took the materials with kavanah (intent) that they were going to use them for the mitzvah.  The preparation for doing a mitzvah requires proper kavanah.

“An example of the importance of proper preparation for a mitzvah is in an anecdote of the tzadik of Sanz.  He was on his way to Shul when he abruptly stopped and turned back home, then promptly set out again for Shul.  To his curious followers he exclaimed, ‘I realized that when I left the house for Shul, I had not had the kavanah that I was going to Shul!  I had to go back and leave for Shul with the proper kavanah.’

Rabbi Dr. Twerski notes that “We do many mitzvos, but too often they are done out of rote.  We say the blessing after meals, but generally with little or no preparation.  In many siddurim there are prefatory verses to some mitzvos… but even though we may recite prefatory prayers, we may still be derelict in having adequate kavanah.

“The Gemara says that the pious people of yore would spend a full hour in meditation before praying (Brachos 30b).  Although we may not be able to spend a great deal of time in preparing ourselves for the performance of mitzvos, we are certainly able to devote a few moments to thinking about the mitzvah, that we are doing it to fulfill the Divine wish and to thereby draw ourselves closer to G-d.  The preparatory kavanah greatly enriches the performance of a mitzvah and its impact upon us” (Twerski on Chumash, p.168).  

While it is special and praiseworthy, and necessary and fundamental, to perform and carry out the mitzvos as ovdei Hashem, our asiyas ha’mitzvos must be matched by the intention to serve G-d.  With thought and heart, wisdom and emotion, we must channel our entire selves to our Divine service.  G-d desires both the chovos ha’aivarim (duty of the limbs), as well as chovos ha’le’vavos (service of the heart).  One who performs mitzvos but lacks intention to serve Hashem is missing the fundamental aspect of kavanah that is so integral to our lives as Jews.  

This concept of preparation for holiness is found in the instructions to the nation to prepare for Matan Torah.  The pasuk says: וַיֹּ֨אמֶר האֶל־מֹשֶׁה֙ לֵ֣ךְ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ֥ם הַיּ֖וֹם וּמָחָ֑ר וְכִבְּס֖וּ שִׂמְלֹתָֽםAnd Hashem said to Moshe: go down to the nation and they shall sanctify today and tomorrow, and wash their clothing (Shemos 19:10).  What does it mean: וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ֥ם – how does one sanctify oneself?  Onkelos explains: וּתְזַמְנִנוּןand they shall prepare.  

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav zt’l, teaches, “וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ֥ם הַיּ֖וֹם וּמָחָ֑ר – Onkelos translates (these words as) ‘Prepare’.  Holiness means preparation.  Holiness is not a transcendental phenomenon which arrives against man’s will.  Man does not bear the yoke of holiness if he does not want it.  Man must choose it, wait for it, yearn for it.  Only then does holiness descend slowly and cleave to us.

“In the three-day prelude to receiving the Torah, Moshe warned the nation.  Be ready for three days (Shemos 19:15).  Similarly, Aharon had to submit to a seven-day preparation period prior to the dedication of the Tabernacle, and every Kohen Gadol subsequently went through a similar sequester prior to Yom Kippur.  What is the analogy between Aharon’s preparation period prior to the Tabernacle dedication and Yom Kippur?  Both involved an encounter with holiness.  Holiness does not arrive suddenly; it comes only by the invitation inherent in the act of preparation. (Chumash Masores HaRav, Shemos, p.163).  

In our morning tefilos we say, “ודבק לבנו במצוותיךLet our hearts cling to Your mitzvos.”  Reb Uri of Strelisk (1757–1826, one of the earlier chassidic rebbes, and a talmid of Reb Shlomo of Karlin) explains “The meaning of this prayer, which a Jew recites daily, is this: That the mitzvos that I fulfill will be etched on my heart.  That they will be an integral part of my being.  That I will be totally filled with them, and that I will not ever part from them.  In this way that love that I have for You, my Creator, will no longer remain a transient phase” (Tales of the Righteous, S. Raz, p.108).

Let us strive to ensure that our performance of mitzvos, as well as our desire and intent to perform the mitzvos, are pure and holy before G-d, so that we may be sanctified and elevated before Him.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,



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